Enjoyable, even if predictable: A Review of I Know Everything by Matthew Farrell

Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of I Know Everything by Matthew Farrell.

I Know Everything Matthew Farrell
Source: Goodreads

Genre: 

Mystery, Psychological Thriller

Length: 

334 Pages

Blurb:

Renowned psychologist, Randall Brock, is devastated by the death of his wife. Police Investigator Susan Adler is all set to call it death by accident, until she receives evidence indicating murder. Randall Brock becomes her prime suspect.

While Brock remains oblivious to the turn of events, he comes face to face with a stranger, promising information about his wife’s death. But first, he wants Brock to give up the secrets he holds, secrets of a violent past that the stranger threatens to reveal if Brock refuses to accept them. With pressure mounting from Adler and the stranger who seems to know everything about Brock’s past, the psychologist’s life and mind begin to unravel. He knows he didn’t kill his wife… so who did? And who are they going after next?

Overall Rating:

6 out of 10

Plot:

7 out of 10

Characterization:

6 out of 10

Primary Element:

6 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

7 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

No.

Highlighted Takeaway:

The portrayal of the complexities of the human mind and the behavior to which it can drive the worst and best of people.

What I Liked:

The storyline was based more on actions that were shades of gray. It showed that people aren’t either good or bad; they are complicated beings who, for the most part, behave to their possible best in trying circumstances.

What I Didn’t Like:

The excessive use of the term ‘revert back’. A pet peeve of mine, I have always been very annoyed that it’s becoming acceptable to say ‘reply back’ and ‘revert back’ instead of just ‘reply’ and ‘revert’.

Randall Brock was a difficult character to like. He had a lot going for him, but I would have liked to see him with just a tad more of a spine.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who can’t tolerate gore – there is quite a bit of disturbing violence in I Know Everything that isn’t always easy to digest.

Read It For:

An intriguing storyline that isn’t too tarnished by some of it being predictable, a tale with different elements that come together well, and its liberal take on right v/s wrong.

Matthew Farrell’s I Know Everything released on 6 August 2019 and is now available for sale.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read this review!

– Rishika

Good Premise, Weak Implementation: A Review of Trance (By Adam Southward)

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of this book. Trance released on 1 July and is now available for sale. I wish I could’ve enjoyed it more because the blurb had been incredibly promising. But there were some issues that just couldn’t be ignored in this psychological thriller.

Oh well… Let’s get right to the review of Adam Southward’s Trance.

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Source: Goodreads

Genre:

Psychological thriller, Mystery

Length:

336 page

Blurb:

Three University scientists are found dead in a horrifying murder-suicide. Victor Lazar is found outside the room and imprisoned as the only suspect. But soon, other inmates are driven to suicide. And then the psychologist assigned to Lazar kills himself.

Private therapist, Alex Madison, used to be one of the best forensic psychologists in the city until the events that led to his downfall, personally and professionally. When he’s called in to interview and diagnose Lazar, he knows it’s a chance at redemption. But the case forces him to look beyond everything he’s known and learned about psychology and psychiatry. Will Madison find his redemption? Or will he end up losing everything he still holds dear in the revenge saga that Lazar is building?

Overall Rating:

5 out of 10

Plot:

7 out of 10

Characterization:

5 out of 10

Primary Element:

4 out of 10 for the psychological thriller aspect, 6 out of 10 for its mystery

Writing Style:

6 out of 10

Part of a Series:

According to Goodreads, this is the first of the books in the series of the primary protagonist – Alex Madison.

Highlighted Takeaway:

The basic premise – if this had been explored more, it would’ve been a very different (and much better) read.

What I Liked:

The book doesn’t shy away from being violent and abrupt, making it a fast-paced read.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The psychological basis of the story was just a given, which takes away the entire mystery of, “How is this happening?”
  • Characters were one-dimensional
  • Plot twists were predictable
  • The main protagonist, although probably one of the better parts of the book, could probably have done with a little more rationality. Although not as cringe-worthy and annoying, Madison’s character reminded me a lot of another confused character that I’d absolutely detested – Lorna – from Samantha Hayes’ Tell Me A Secret (review of that apparent psychological thriller is here).

Who Should Read It:

Anyone looking for a quick mystery, pseudo-thriller – as long as you’re not expecting a book that stays with you forever.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who likes psychological thrillers because of the depth they often offer into the human psyche – Trance has a good premise but does nothing to follow it up.

Read It For:

A fast holiday or non-serious weekend read option.

All in all, I’d say that Trance doesn’t have to be one your TBR list. Adam Southward is a talented writer who probably has some great ideas. I’d love to see them more fleshed out though so as to actually make for a compelling, memorable read. As for Trance… it’s a good option for when you want something fast and not too sensible.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read this review.

– Rishika

Enjoyable and Intriguing: Review of The Woman In Our House by Andrew Hart

After I read Tell Me A Secret (review here), I’d more or less sworn off of books that tried to imitate the niche genre highlighted by Gillian Flynn. Which is why I picked up The Woman In Our House with some reservations. The blurb was intriguing, but would the book focus more on the thrill factor as I’d hoped or go down the rabbit hole of a main female character’s self-pity was something to be seen.

Thankfully, it met expectations. And made for a captivating read. Before I go ahead, I’m sending NetGalley a big thanks for an ARC of this book! The Woman In Our House comes out on 18 June 2019.

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Source: Goodreads

Genre: Suspense, Psychological thriller

Length: 347 pages

Blurb:

Anna Klein and her husband decide to hire a live-in nanny when she decides to return to work as a literary agent after her second child turns a little over 6 months old. Oaklynn Durst arrives after numerous interviews and with stellar references. The children take to her immediately, leaving Anna feeling a little unwanted even as she remains thankful for Oaklynn and being able to go back to work. But when the children begin suffering from sudden illnesses and bruises, Anna begins to worry that Oaklynn may not be what she seems. But are her own insecurities driving her suspicion, or did she really put her children and even herself and her house under the care of a lying, scheming woman who wouldn’t hesitate to hurt any of them?

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

Plot: 8 out of 10

Characterization: 8 out of 10

Primary Element: 7 out of 10 for its thrill and suspense

Writing Style: 8 out of 10

Part of a Series: No

Highlighted Takeaway: 

The plot. Let’s just say, “You will not see some things coming at all!”

What I Liked:

Characterization, especially that of the main protagonist, Anna Klien, was really well done. She wasn’t over the top or too self-pitying. In fact, she was just the right amount of neurotic and self-aware to make it easy to empathize with her, and even associate with her in many places.

What I Didn’t Like:

Similar to Tell Me A Secret, the men were only present when convenient. Even Anna’s husband is more ‘her husband’ than ‘a supporting character’. Given that he actually had a role to play in the book, there should have been a little more focus on him.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys a good suspense read, because it is surely that while definitely not being a ‘mess with your mind’ style psychological thriller. Those who like Mary Higgins Clark’s older books would probably like this one.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who doesn’t like books that focus on women as central characters. The women in this book aren’t unrealistic in all action and thought in this book, but it’s still predominantly a woman-centric story.

Read It For:

Reminding yourself that the world still has those people who don’t exactly believe in the “live and let live” ideology, and that things aren’t always as they seem.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my book review. Say Hi! in the comments below!

– Rishika

 

Review: Tell Me A Secret (By Samantha Hayes)

A big thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for an ARC of this book, in exchange for a really honest review.

Although I’d received this book early last year, it’s taken me a long time to get to reading it. I finally thought I’ll just give it a shot. Before going further though, I think it’s important for me to disclose that had the previous book I was reading not ended up as a rare entry on my DNF list (for reasons cited here), I’d probably have tossed this one on that pile. But the last one did, and so this one didn’t… which is how we’re now on this review! Let’s get right into it!

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Source: Goodreads

Genre: Psychological thriller, mystery, and suspense (that’s what it says on the cover)

Length: 360 pages

Blurb:

Lorna is a psychotherapist. (This is something I really want you to remember as you read on… really, really remember!) She lives her life by an uber tight schedule because she’s trying hard to not allow herself a moment to think about the dark secret she holds. A new client of hers turns out to be someone familiar – Andrew, who she’s tried hard to forget, and failed. Aware of the risk to her marriage, family, and career, Lorna signs up on a dating site and messages Andrew anonymously (again, she’s a psychotherapist). Then Andrew dies – is murdered – but messages from him keep coming. Someone knows Lorna’s secrets and is out to destroy her. What happens next?

Overall Rating: 1 out of 10

Plot: 2 out of 10 (and most of this is for the climax)

Characterization: 1 out of 10

Primary Element: 1 out of 10 since it was too annoying to be thrilling, mysterious, or suspenseful

Writing Style: 1 out of 10

Part of a Series:

No. (Thank everything good in this world for that!)

Highlighted Takeaway:

The characters proving true the adage – You attract what you are – because they’re all idiots, surrounded by other idiots.

What I Liked:

The final few plot twists – not the best or even surprising, but definitely the best part of this book.

What I Didn’t Like:

Jotting down a quick list here:

  1. Lorna, who spent most of the book going, “Oh, I know this is a mistake but let me make it anyway and now let me regret making it but continue making it while continuing to regret it and making it, which brings me back to the regret as I continue making it… you get the gist!
  2. The constant use of, “I know I’m a therapist, but…” before Lorna makes another stupid decision. Honestly, that’s just lazy writing and the most ridiculous justification for a character’s actions.
  3. The fact that all the men in the book were literally nothing more than props to move the women’s stories ahead. They were insignificant, convenient, and had an incredible lack of any character other than that trait which suited the women’s story at the moment.

Who Should Read It:

Those who love books with highly dysfunctional, self-destructive persons and families, like The Couple Next Door or Daddy Darkest.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who doesn’t like books with characters that have multiple chances, but never seem to learn, while being aware that that’s what is happening.

Read It For:

The knowledge that Gone Girl (review here) may have been the only successful attempt at a psychological thriller based on dysfunction that actually made sense.

I’d also just like to add that Tell Me A Secret joins Daddy Darkest (review here) and The Couple Next Door (review here) to make up a genre that I am probably never going to read again. People just aren’t as ridiculous as the characters in these books, and if they are, I’d honestly just not read about them.

Tell me what you thought about Tell Me A Secret and this review in the comments below! And as always, thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Review: The Butterfly Garden (By Dot Hutchison)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 288 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An isolated garden. Beautiful trees and flowers. And a collection of butterflies – kidnapped women intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes and whose beauty is captured and preserved. Overseeing all of this is The Gardener. When the FBI rescues the girls, they find themselves struggling to find answers. The girls are too damaged to speak or share what they’ve been through. Only one girl stands apart – Maya. Maya begins to take FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison through her story, and the story of many others interwoven with hers. More disturbing than they could have ever imagined, the story that Maya tells them takes them into the horrors of the Garden and The Gardener’s mind. Yet, something is missing, something is being held back. Maya is hiding something. Agent Hanoverian needs to get to the truth. Because uncovering Maya’s secret, or failing to do so, will affect the fate of every girl they rescued and the man responsible for their horror.

The Bottom Line:

A disturbing book with a good storyline, but that fails to pack a real punch.

My take:

One thing is for sure – The Butterfly Garden isn’t a book that everyone will be able to digest. The way the book plays out could be enough to make people extremely uncomfortable. The events and the psyche of its characters are quite disturbing and occasionally even make your skin crawl. One good thing though, is that it isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Hutchison skips over the most graphic details, choosing instead to focus on the events leading up to it, and after it, and how it made the characters involved, feel. And that’s done quite well, saving readers from the worst of it, but still showcasing enough of the fallout to evoke some empathy, sympathy, and disturbance.

The story and the premise itself are just about okay. I mean, it’s interesting enough to create a story where a man has an entire garden of women whose beauty is preserved in death. But the story has a lot of plotholes. Like, how did no one notice something wrong for so many years? Or why didn’t the captured girls fight back when they had the clear advantage of numbers? There are many other such plot-points which, I felt, should have been explored more to make the story more believable. If the end result would have been what the story said it was anyway, that would’ve been fine. But the question of What if would have been solved.

Hutchison tries to offer that solution through conversation. For instance, she does showcase how terrified the girls were of making any attempt at overthrowing their kidnapper that would be ‘almost’ successful. The result of the ‘almost’ aspect was certain death. Which is why no one ever tries anything. But showing this would have made it more rounded as a story, instead of just mentioning it in passing as Hutchison has done.

The style of the book is definitely unique. It switches between the third person – when the detectives are interviewing Maya, and the first person – when Maya relates her own story. The contrasting approaches actually made a pretty good combination, leaving you turning page after page.

Characterization was good, although a bit over the top in some cases. The detectives are very likable and I’m keen to follow their story arcs over the next few books in the series (apparently, they’re related, but can all be read standalone).

The two biggest problems with The Butterfly Garden were that (a) it didn’t actually become as creepy and psychologically troubling as it could have been (which is something people look for in the genre of psychological thriller or horror), and (b) a large part of the plot is anticlimactic.

I started this book expecting it to be one of those that burns disturbing images into your head and keeps you revisiting them for a while, especially in your nightmares. That happened to me with John Case’s Murder Artist. I couldn’t sleep for days after reading that one because it was incredibly disturbing, not from a horror perspective, but from the extent of “how far can people go”. A lot of people may have felt the same with The Butterfly Garden. But the book gave me half a sleepless night before I began to forget about it. What remained are those detectives, and I’d like to follow the series for them and the fact that Hutchison may not be the best in the psychological thriller genre, but her books do follow an interesting theme.

Should you read The Butterfly Garden? Definitely not if you get queasy easily. But, give it a shot if:

  • you like crime thrillers
  • you enjoy psychological suspense and thrillers
  • you are not easily creeped out by the atrocities and disturbing weirdness that this world is (probably) actually capable of
  • you want to read an interesting (but not excellent) thriller

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on The Butterfly Garden or recommend a good psychological thriller. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

P.S.: I’m going to take a few months off of reviewing books. I may occasionally review a short story here and there, but I’ll be back early next year in full swing to tell you which books to add to your TBR pile and which to ignore! In the meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can follow my photography adventures (and misadventures) on my Instagram handle: @rishikajhamb

Laters, Alligators!

Review: Obscura (By Joe Hart)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 348 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dr. Gillian Ryan could do nothing but watch helplessly as her husband withered away into someone she couldn’t even recognize. Affected by a new and fast-acting form of dementia, he lost his memory, then himself, and finally his life. Her infant daughter was the only ray of sunshine in her life at that dark time. But eight years later, her daughter begins to show the terrifying symptoms of the disease. Gillian has already dedicated her life to finding a cure, but her daughter’s sickness renews her determination. Until the university cuts her funding. Gillian is on the brink of losing hope when her college boyfriend comes back into her life. He wants her to travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew members are showing symptoms similar to the psychosis that’s threatening her daughter’s life. Without any other option, Gillian accepts, hopeful that her research will help save her daughter too.

But things are not as she was made to believe. Gillian’s apprehension turns to paranoia as strange events begin to unfold around her. Something is terribly wrong with the crew, and things are only getting worse. Battling her own problem of addiction, one that she’d kept secret from almost everyone, she begins to lose sight of the line between reality and nightmare. But, as she realizes, the worst is yet to come. Desperate to find the solution that could save her daughter’s life, Gillian is forced to fight against an unknown danger, the unimaginable threats of space, and her own self. As precious days and weeks tick by, Gillian begins to wonder just what she’ll lose first to the horrors she faces – her daughter, her life, or her sanity.

The Bottom Line:

An edge-of-your-seat read that brilliantly blends science fiction and thriller to create the written equivalent of LIFE meets Alien meets Hollow Man.

My take:

The first thing to know about Obscura is that even though its cover says Obscura: A Thriller, it’s quite predominantly science fiction. The science fiction part of it is quite interesting although I won’t claim to fathom its actual possibility. It’s not Jurassic Park type science fiction; maybe a little simpler. But if you take it at face value, you can really get into the story.

The book has a lot of crazy plot twists. Some are expected, but most aren’t. It moves along at a very brisk pace and keeps you turning the pages relentlessly. But the best part about the book is its rawness. Every character is very real. They’re very human. They’re weak, strong, good, bad, kind, selfish, and everything in between. But more importantly, every emotion is blunt and honest, while not being dramatized. You can really experience the characters’ emotions, and this is done so subtly that the suddenness of those emotions makes them even stronger.

The book doesn’t shy away from reality and, in no way, romanticizes the notion of good vs. bad. It dabbles predominantly in gray areas (for events and people), and has parts that are graphic and disturbing primarily because of their straight-forwardness. Like in life, it offers no guarantees, and all these factors make the entire book very hard-hitting.

The only thing that works against it is that it moves back and forth a lot, which makes it a tag confusing. But other than that, the book has very little to affect the excellent reading experience it offers. While it is a bit difficult to break down the elements that make it a good read, Obscura, as a whole, is very thrilling, beautifully raw, and even emotional. It’s one of those books that stays with you long after it’s done.

I would highly recommend Obscura to:

  • fans of science fiction
  • fans of thriller and mystery (who don’t shy away from graphic details)
  • those who love/enjoy movies like Alien and LIFE

A big thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of Obscura. It got Joe Hart on my radar and I’m looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

Obscura is available for purchase, so get your copy, have a read, and share your thoughts on why you loved/hated it in the comments below! And thanks for stopping by my blog – I hope you find your next read here.

– Rishika

Review: The Retreat (By Mark Edwards)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 335 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Horror novelist, Lucas, decides to travel back to the town he grew up in, taking up residence in a writer’s retreat as he works on his latest novel. He hopes that the peaceful town and surrounding forests will help him get over his writer’s block and finish the book that his agent and editor are waiting for. But within days of arriving, he discovers the tragic past of the woman who runs the retreat.

Two years ago, Julia’s husband, Michael, died while trying to save their daughter, Lily, from the river that ran near their home. Lily’s soft toy floating in the river had been the only indication that she’d even fallen in. But the police never found her body. Julia believes that her daughter is still alive. Caught in limbo, she’s not able to even mourn the death of her husband. After the tragedy, she turned their home into a writer’s retreat as the only way to save herself from going broke and to keep her mind away from the loss that tore at her every day.

Lucas’ interest in Julia’s story grows every day. Until he finds himself doing everything he can to find out what really happened to Lily that day. But as Lucas continues to search for answers, eerie events begin to unfold at the retreat. Someone, or something, is watching from the shadows. Lucas soon discovers that something is amiss in the events of the day when Michael died. And that a dark secret plagues the town, the retreat, and the forests surrounding the house – a secret that will always remain protected, no matter the cost.

The Bottom Line:

The Retreat has an intriguing storyline and hits all the right notes on suspense, thrill, eerieness, setting, and pace, making for a fast, engaging read.

My take:

What I liked the least about The Retreat was Julia. Although you do feel for her after everything she’s been through, she comes across as a little too annoying, too often. Of course, the woman lost her husband and her daughter and is living in a state of limbo. So you can understand the irritating attitude. But what I couldn’t understand about it was how Lucas seems to be oblivious to her flaws. The dynamic between them, for that reason, didn’t make all that much sense to me. Still, it wasn’t the worst, could be written off as the result of the experiences they’d had in life, and was the only slightly irritating part about the book. And the rest of it more than makes up for this.

The story is quite intricate, with a lot of things happening across decades, leading up to the events of the present. The characters are all well defined and have a good real-ness to them. They are all incredibly human in their arrogance, humility, successes, and failures, and in their good and bad. That is what makes the story so relatable – you can actually imagine everything that happens really taking place in a similar setting. It’s also got great suspense and a great setting. It pulls you in right from Page 1 and keeps you hooked throughout.

The best part about the book, though, was its thrill. The Retreat isn’t one of those books where scary faces look out at you from the dark. The thrill it evokes is more subtle and, consequently, incredibly effective. It’s one of those books where the creepiness is brought on by that feeling that you’re being watched, when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, but when you turn around there’s no one there. Yet, you know that someone, or something, was there. It’s the kind of thrill that gets under your skin and stays there, making you a little jumpy at sudden sounds and dark areas. That’s why it stays with you longer and really makes you experience everything that’s happening in the book.

I received The Retreat from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It’s the second Mark Edwards book I’ve gotten from them and although the first one I’d read – The Lucky Ones – was quite good (you can read the review for that here), this one was definitely better. Edwards, who I’d started following after The Lucky Ones, is definitely one of the better (newer) thriller writers and I would love to read more from him. What really makes his work interesting is the variety he brings. It’s not just serial killer thrillers. Edwards writes different stories that just come to him, and while all are of the thriller genre, each of them has a different take on the category. The Retreat, especially, does more than enough justice to the psychological thriller genre under which it’s pitched, which is quite refreshing because (lately) too many books are sold as psychological thrillers when just ‘thriller’ would be more suitable a tag.

I’d strongly recommend The Retreat to:

  • fans of thrillers and crime fiction novels
  • anyone who wants to try out a new thriller author (I’m sure you’ll enjoy Edwards’ style)
  • those who want a thriller with a twist

A big thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of The Retreat! The book released on May 10, so grab your copy right away!

Share your thoughts on The Retreat or any other books you’d like to recommend in the comment section below!

– Rishika